A Bears official told Myles Jack to put his backpack and duffel bag down inside the replica of Walter Payton’s locker that sits in the back left corner of the Halas Hall lobby.
Jack couldn’t do it.
“I have too much love, too much respect for the game,” he said. “That man, he’s a legend.”
The UCLA linebacker has watched enough documentaries to have a sense of history beyond his 20 years. His Chicago-area roots — his mom went to Evanston Township High School — gave him a connection to Bears lore. He’s a former running back, too; when he played both ways in 2013, Jack won both the Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year awards.
A likely top 10 pick in the NFL draft Thursday, Jack began his March 31 Bears visit by taking his duffel bag, backpack and headphones and laying them, gently, on the floor.
“I would never put my stuff in Walter Payton’s locker,” he said. “I have too much respect for that man.”
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The best pre-draft visits cut through job interview platitudes and capture the essence of a player’s personality. The Bears, then, might have learned all they needed about Jack when he took his backpack off.
“What’s your really trying to get at is, what, authentically, is this player all about?” said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former Redskins and Eagles pro personnel director.
It’s hard to get players out of “that monotone agent-speak,” he said. They’re coached to say what teams want to hear, and that doesn’t make for a fruitful meeting.
“Because you know,” Riddick said, “that’s how 95 percent of these players are not.”
Teams watch players’ behavior during visits, even outside the building. How they treat drivers or hotel staff members gets back to teams and, in some cases, eliminates players from consideration.
“Teams will find out, sooner or later, who you are,” Riddick said. “It behooves the player to show it to us right off the bat.”
Visits — each team gets 30 — aren’t indicative of interest as much as curiosity.
The Bears’ first-round pick last year, receiver Kevin White, nailed his Halas Hall interview, while second-rounder Eddie Goldman said “they didn’t come visit me, I didn’t go visit them.”
Still, tracking the Bears’ interviewees is illuminating: Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott and receivers Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss) and Will Fuller (Notre Dame) last week, with Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry, among others, earlier.
Visiting defenders included Ohio State end Joey Bosa, Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, Clemson outside linebacker Shaq Lawson, Oklahoma State outside linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah, Alabama lineman Jarran Reed and UTEP outside linebacker Roy Robertson-Harris.
“For the coaches, I always thought it was about mentality and what they actually knew about football, and what they would bring to the table that way,” said former Browns GM Phil Savage, a Sirius XM analyst. “From a personnel standpoint, again, the overlap of the football temperament. … just the intangible piece of the puzzle.”
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The Bears tout their history during visits, showing draftees their Lombardi Trophy and other artifacts. They’re not stuffy about it, though, exuding the conviviality of a family-run organization.
“I didn’t feel like it was uptight or too nonchalant,” said Jack, speaking on a promotional tour for Speed Stick. “I felt like it was the right tempo. I felt like it was the perfect happy medium.”
The personalities of GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, in their second Bears offseason, contribute to that comfort.
“He’s not a real serious coach unless he needs to be,” Robertson-Harris, who met April 14 but was kept separated from fellow visitor Floyd, said of Fox. “Down to earth, real chill.”
His dinner meeting was scuttled because of scheduling snafu, so Robertson-Harris spent the night before his meeting watching Kobe Bryant’s finale and the Warriors’ 73rd win on his hotel room television. The next day, outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt showed the likely late-round pick how he could fit in the 3-4 defense.
Jack and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires got carried away during their film session.
“We got along so well that our meeting went overboard,” Jack said. “We were looking at film. I almost missed my flight.
“It felt real natural.”
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Jack understands the scrutiny surrounding his right knee; a torn right meniscus ended his junior season after three games, mandating September surgery and a medical re-check last week.
He says it’s fine; he’s working out and even playing basketball with his brother.
“If you’re gonna buy something,” he said, “you want to make sure it’s going to do what you think it’s going to do.”
He wants to know what his employer will do, too.
“I’m going to go there, I’m going to be myself,” he said. “If they want to do board work, we can do board work. If they want to look at film, it’s nothing.
“It’s really me getting a feel of who I could potentially be working for.”
The most versatile player in the draft, Jack learned how the Bears would use him at inside linebacker. He’s considered an ideal outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, and one team, the Chargers, have talked about using his as a hybrid safety.
“It’s always important just to see their vision of where they see you at, and see if you feel like you can gel with that,” Jack said. “I definitely felt like, being an inside ‘backer for the Chicago Bears — just saying that itself holds a lot of weight.”
He knew the history before any visit.
“To be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears,” he said. “That would be an honor and a privilege.”